Alright, Q&A time.
First, just so we're clear (since I thought everyone knew what a DTA is, my bad), a DTA is a scaled down cable box stripped of virtually all functionality other than tuning channels - there's no HD, no On Demand, no music channels, etc.
Comcast is going mostly digital in my area, so they're scrapping the expanded basic analog channels(32-71) as of January 14th, leaving just the limited basic analog channels (2-31, and even then some of that is used for digital today). Although I understand some markets have already been given the same treatment (Chicago?) we're the first widescale DTA deployment, as Comcast wants to try these things out here in Oregon before going national.
Being the Luddite that I am, I'm still on expanded basic cable (I had no need for digital beyond picking up the HD locals with my HDHomeRun) so I'm part of the 15% affected by this. Comcast is moving all of its expanded basic customers to the Digital Starter tier, and giving us 3 devices for free for the transition: the 2 DTAs, and a standard STB (I received a Motorola DCH70). As near as I can tell from Comcast's site, new digital customers still only get the first STB for free, so the free DTAs are only for people Comcast needs to move to digital. Clearly something will change in the future, either Comcast will charge me for the DTAs in a year, or include them for free in all of the digital packages.
Additional DTAs can be ordered from Comcast for $1.99 a month. For reference, I have no clue what additional STBs go for (Comcast doesn't list a price on their site), SD DVRs are $8.95, and HD DVRs are $13.95, and apparently you need to upgrade to Digital Preferred to be able to order the DVRs. Package prices are $55.40 for Digital Starter (the same as expanded basic was), $69.35 for Digital Classic, $70.35 for Preferred, and $119.99 for Premier.
I should also add that in preparation for this, Comcast ceased encrypting all of the Digital Starter channels. I have heard that the DTAs have a security module, but since it's not a separable module the FCC won't allow its use. As it stands it can only pick up unencryped channels, so it can not pick up any premium channels. The whole unencrypted thing is fine by me, since this allows me to continue to use my HDHomeRun on my main TV.
Is there any sort of on screen display? I notice an Info button on the remote. Does it simply tell you the time and channel name?
As you can see in the following screenshot, you only get the channel number and the station callsign. The box doesn't appear to keep track of time, and it has no further features (programming guide, etc).
Is the audio from Ch 3/4 RF out still in Mono like current digital boxes, or did they figure out BTSC Stereo encoding like the old analog boxes?
I think it's stereo, but the TVs my DTAs are hooked up to are mono, so I have no quick way to test it.
You can receive all the premium channels right?
No, only unencrypted Digital Starter channels.
One interesting point that you made: You said the picture quality isn't anything to write home about. You made this comment compared to what? Like, say, were you to plug a S-Video out from a regular digital cable box to the same TV, the picture quality would improve?
Compared to being able to use something other than RF.
Hows the channel tune performance. When you quickly push Ch up or down, is it relatively fast? Does it lag or hang up on you?
Tuning performance is pretty poor (I'm new to digital so I have no idea how it compares to other devices, but compared to analog it's poor), I measured it at 2 seconds. There is no lag in trying to flip through channels quickly however, if you switch again while it's tuning a previous channel, it simply stops and moves on to the next one. Basically it doesn't start to tune a channel until you stop flipping channels.
Is this something available for purchase from Comcast or do you still have to rent it, and if so, what's the price difference between this and a STB?
Rental only. I have no idea what renting a STB costs, so I can't give you a price difference. Sorry.
Beyond that, I wouldn't be surprised if there was at least some sort of simple way to authorize these boxes on the cable plant, ether thru a "keep alive" message or some other indirect way they can shut one down
That's more or less on the dot. In spite of only being able to tune unencrypted channels, it did not tune anything until remotely activated. I have no idea what would happen if I tried to move it somewhere else though.
What is Comcast charging/month for the box and what channels does it receive?
Beyond the 2 free DTAs, it would be $1.99 for each additional one. It can receive all of the Digital Starter channels.
Here's my question though, if before you had just basic or expanded analog, not digital, and now get this box, will you get all the non-premium digital channels? Or will you have to be forced into buying expanded digital tier? This box does not de-encrypt so Comcast can't separate those packages anymore, no?
All expanded basic customers are being automatically converted to Digital Starter at the same price. This box can pick up those channels and nothing else (whether the channels that you get with Proffered are "premium" or not, I guess depends on the definition). This box does not currently decrypt anything, so the Digital Starter tier is unencrypted.
Hmmmm... Ya know, I'm thinking someone needs to put together a FAQ that includes some sort of (semi)official terminology to refer to the different box types now.
The worst part is that no one (even Comcast) seems to be able to remember what DTA stands for. Apparently it's Digital Transport Adapter, but we'll see how long that lasts. Personally, I'm all for calling them Luddite Boxes and leaving it at that.
Anyhow, any other questions?